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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

How Not to Freak Out When You Meet Someone You Admire

When I was in college, I met David Sedaris. I was 21, I had just read Naked, and as an aspiring writer who dreamed to cultivate Sedaris’ gift, I was a little overzealous, to put it mildly.

He held a book reading at an intimate setting in New Hampshire, far from the huge venues you can find him in these days, and afterward he was easily approachable. So, I headed toward him with both glee and hesitation, trying to contain my enthusiasm. But when he stood before me, I fell into fan-girl mode.

“I love you!” I exclaimed maniacally, on the verge of tears. “I really, really love you, and I want to be just like you when I grow up!” Thankfully, he was kind, we spoke for a few minutes, and he signed my book with, “I look forward to reading your book.”

That was the first and last time I met someone I truly, wholeheartedly admired. Since then, I always swore I’d be far more cool if the opportunity to meet another one of my heroes arose. (I’m still preparing—lying in wait like a lioness.)

At some point in your professional life, you, too, will probably run into someone you admire, and when that day comes, it’s important to be prepared and relaxed. The first feat is reminding yourself that this person is not some celestial creature beamed down from the heavens, but someone actually very human, just like you. After that, it’s all about breathing and keeping your inner fanatic under wraps. Just remember these dos and don'ts.




Breathing is really important! Not only does it keep you alive (obviously), but calm and evenly paced breaths will take your nerves down several notches.

Keep Your Body Language in Check

See that person you’re dying to talk to at a convention? Are you waving as if you’re best friends? Stop. It. Now. There’s nothing worse than acting overly familiar with someone whom you’ve never met. You’ll look like a psycho, realize it, and then likely freak out, break a sweat, trip, stutter, and end up in the corner with your face in your palm.

Related: What's Your Body Language Saying?

Proceed With Grace and Caution

It’s important to read the person with whom you’d like to speak. Does she look like she’s in the mood to talk to a stranger? Is he already overwhelmed by dozens of equally excited admirers? Is it possible to get a cupcake on the way there? These are important things to consider before making your way to the person and letting the compliments roll.

Admire Like an Adult

Once you’re front and center, it’s time to shine. Take the heartfelt, honest approach in the way you compliment this person. Have you admired him since you were a little girl? Are you the woman you are today because of the life-long inspiration of this particular person? Would you love to set up a meeting to pick her brain, or are you just there to say thank you? (Yes, “thank you,” when you meet someone you admire is always a great gesture.)

Related: Caught in an Elevator With a CEO? 3 Conversation Starters

Put a 3-Minute Cap on It

Keep in mind that you’re probably not the only one in the room dying to talk to this person. Instead of hogging up whatever limited time he or she has, keep your spiel of admiration to no longer than three minutes. (Ideally, between one and two.)


Hug Them!

Yes, it might be your first instinct to hug this person, because you think you know him or her so well, but hold the phones! How would you feel if someone, even if this person thought you were the bee’s knees, came running up to you to hug you, all while going on and on about how awesome you are? You wouldn’t like it either. Keep it simple, and keep it to a handshake.

Related: Let’s Get Physical: The Rules of Touch at Work


Telling someone you admire that you want to run away with her and start a new society of people on an island somewhere, even if you’re “joking,” is just asking for trouble. Not only do you come off as insane, but you’re playing with your professional reputation. It’s hard to take people seriously when they’re throwing out marriage proposals to strangers. The same goes for squealing: Don’t do it.

Take a Photo Without Permission

Sometimes when we meet a person we admire, our brain immediately goes to just how we’re going to savor this moment forever and ever. And now that everyone has a built-in phone camera, it’s kind of hard not to indulge in the immediate urge to take a photo of, well, everyone. However, do yourself and especially the person in question a favor, and don’t. If you feel you can’t live your life without a photo of you two together, then ask politely. Should he or she say no, don’t argue, haggle, or mope. Not everyone wants to pose for pictures.

Be a Jerk on Social Media

Let’s say that the person you’ve met not only doesn’t want to be photographed, but also comes off like a real SOB. Does this give you permission to take to social media to do the same? Not really. Sure, you’re free to voice your disappointment, but why bother? In cases like this, it’s important to take the high road. There’s no telling how and why people react the way they do sometimes, so it’s not your place to pass judgement, especially on a public forum.

Sweat It

Whether the person you admire was horrifically rude or you stumbled over your own words and felt foolish, let it go. We come into contact with thousands of people in our lives, so the likelihood of your foul-up being remembered probably isn’t at the top of the list of things that will come to mind later on.

When dealing with the emotions and mindset that come with meeting someone you admire, nothing quells any possible impending drama like breathing and reminding yourself that we’re all human. While it’s likely to be pretty tricky to keep your cool should the time come, if you can remember to not hyperventilate and realize that no one is “better” or “above” anyone else, then you’re halfway there. The rest will fall into place.

Especially if you steer away from marriage proposals.

Photo courtesy of Michael Woodruff / Shutterstock.

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